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Mine supply firms overcome lost contracts.

Dynamic' entrepreneurs band together

Elliott Lake mining supply firms are hanging tough despite the almost complete disappearance of a local market.

Companies such as Elmar Industries, Vent Tech Inc., Rojak and G&J Schmitz have found new business opportunities to replace the loss of business they received from Denison and Rio Algom.

They are all members of a nine-company organization called the Elliot Lake Mining Manufacturers' Association (ELMMA) which was created following the closure of the local Denison uranium mines.

The association's mandate is to look for opportunities to expand both the markets and product lines of its members.

According to Dianna Bratina, director of business development with the Elliot Lake Economic Development office, the association also provides a venue for discussions of joint marketing ventures as well as for lobbying and advocacy efforts.

Bratina describes these mining manufacturers as a truly entrepreneurial and dynamic group that possess high technical skills and expertise.

"The future looks good," says Peter Schmitz, vice-president of G&J Schmitz and of Rock Support Inc., which are both owned and operated by the Schmitz family.

G&J Schmitz is celebrating its 10th anniversary, while Rock Support Inc. is in its second year of operation. Both companies relied heavily on Denison and Rio Algom for sales.

G&J Schmitz fabricates and repairs buckets, shutes and conveyor systems. Rock Support Inc. manufactures rock bolts and related mine hardware.

While both companies have had to lay off employees and operate with about four personnel each, they have also been successful in expanding their markets and now supply Falconbridge, Hemlo Gold and the Williams Mine.

According to Schmitz, both companies are now quoting on jobs outside the province.

"We're optimistic about getting out-of-province business," he says.

In addition, the companies are exploring the potential for exporting their products to mining operations in South America as well as for new customers outside the mining sector.

Vent Tech, meanwhile, is also exploring South America and the United States for new business opportunities.

Vent Tech produces ventilation ducting and has recently added water pumps to its line of products.

"We're actively seeking a good product mix that utilizes our existing materials and machinery," explains company president Albert Brown.

Quality Management

Eleven Northern Ontario firms have signed on for FedNor's quality management campaign. The 11 include Abraflex Ltd. of Val Caron, Autogene Industries of North Bay, Drillex International of Sudbury, Levert and Associates Contracting of Sudbury, Metalec Sudbury Inc. of Val Caron, Rahn Plastics of North Bay, Rock Support Inc. of Elliot Lake, Stainless Steel Technology of Sudbury, Sudbury Welding and Engineering Inc. of Lively, Versatile-Wales Ltd. of Elliott Lake and Walden Welding of Lively. They will receive contributions totalling $99,544. The quality management initiative is designed to assist suppliers in producing their goods to exacting standards.

Having lost Rio Algom as its primary customer, Vent Tech has secured new contracts with Inco, Hemlo Gold and mining operations in Quebec which it serves through a distributor in that province.

Brown believes that his company has been successful in weathering the downturn in Elliott Lake. He has reduced his staff from 15 to 10, but predicts that there will not be much improvement in business until prices improve for gold and nickel.

One of the more successful comebacks is Elmar Industries which in recent months has hired additional staff.

Elmar was founded in 1983 to provide employment for women in Elliot Lake. It was a primary supplier of filtration products to Denison and Rio Algom.

Denison, in particular, was a key customer and when it closed Elmar lost more than half of its business.

However, some of that loss was partially cushioned by the diversification activities Elmar had pursued in 1988. The company expanded its product line at that time to produce super-support suspenders, kidney belts, reflective arm bands and respirator pouches for mining companies across Canada and in the U.S.

Earlier this year Elmar was successful in negotiating an agreement to become a subcontractor of P&S Filtration Inc. of New York. P&S had closed down its Canadian-based sew-and-cut operations and was seeking a supplier of wet filtration products. Elmar landed the contract and will be supplying products to the mining and pulp and paper industries in Canada and the U.S.

Exporting has become the key to survival for El-Equip, a manufacturer and supplier of underground communications equipment, and Rojak, a supplier of hydraulic drilling and mining tools. They have expanded their markets from Elliot Lake across Canada and to the United States and Chile.

Rojak was more dependent on the local mines for business than El-Equip. However, according to Rhona Guertin, vice-president of administration for both companies, Rojak has expanded beyond the lost Denison business.

"The future is very good for both companies as we are back on solid ground," adds Guertin.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Title Annotation:creation of Elliot Lake Mining Manufacturers' Association to replace loss of business following closure of Denison and Algom mines
Author:Campbell, Joan
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Canadian capital, expertise sought by the CIS.
Next Article:Mine tour delivers payload of tourists.

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